The freshman attacked the basket, hustled for rebounds and showed the type of leadership that Arkansas coach John Pelphrey has wanted to see from his starting point guard.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Fortson responded by scoring 17 points over the final 20 minutes of Arkansas' 72-69 loss to No. 23 LSU in Bud Walton Arena.
"Basically I was just taking what the defense gave me (in the second half)," said Fortson, who also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists. "The big men in the first half, they were (covering me) great."
Fortson didn't hit his first basket until he drove in for a layup with 15 minutes, 22 seconds remaining. That shot sparked the freshman, who scored five consecutive points and then hit a 3-pointer less than a minute later to extend Arkansas' lead to 47-43 with 13:09 left.
"I thought he was incredible. He didn't make a basket in the first half, and you wouldn't know it by his facial expressions, by his attitude," said Arkansas assistant coach Tom Ostrom, who filled in for Pelphrey during the postgame news conference.
"The guy just kept playing."
Pelphrey suspended Fortson for last Saturday's 79-63 loss to Kentucky because of ongoing attitude issues. But Pelphrey said Monday that, barring anything unexpected, the freshman would be welcomed back to the lineup against LSU.
Fortson received a loud ovation when he was introduced as a starter before tip-off. And a large group of fans in Arkansas' student section welcomed the freshman back by throwing talcum powder into the air like he does before every game.
"Of course, I grew as a player and my maturity level grew dramatically," Fortson said. "I felt good coming back out here in front of the home crowd."
Fortson failed to get into a rhythm early on, missing all five of his shots, committing five turnovers and dishing out only two assists before halftime. But he had no turnovers and hit 6-of-9 shots from the floor in the second half.
LSU coach Trent Johnson couldn't offer enough praise for guard Marcus Thornton, especially after watching his team's leading scorer heat up in the second half.
Thornton scored 20 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, including a pair of free throws with 11.8 seconds remaining to seal the win for the Tigers.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior seemed to have his way down the stretch. He drove to the basket, hit 7-of-12 shots in the second half and got to the free-throw line twice in the final minute.
"I had to settle down and wait till (the game) came to me," said Thornton, who made up for his 2-of-8 shooting from behind the 3-point line by making 10-of-21 shots from the floor.
"When (the Razorbacks) got their big lead, I tried to take it upon myself to bring us back one shot at a time."
Thornton, who came into Wednesday ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring at 20.0 points per game, had only eight points in the first half on 3-of-9 shooting. But he rediscovered his jump shot in the second half and continued to attack the basket despite playing all 40 minutes.
"There are two guys in this conference that are pretty special that play that position (shooting guard)," Johnson said. "One of them (Jodie Meeks) is at Kentucky and the other guy's at LSU."
Under the Weather
Pelphrey didn't feel well Wednesday night, but he wasn't too sick to pick up another technical foul.
The Arkansas coach came down with bronchitis before the game, and he looked under the weather when he came out of the locker room before tip-off.
"He's sick. He's really sick," Ostrom said. "He was basically down-and-out before the game, taking a nap. I've been around him a long time, and this might be as sick as I've ever seen him."
Still, Pelphrey wasn't feeling too bad to yell at his players and get called for his fifth technical of the season early in the second half.
After LSU tied the score at 36-36, Pelphrey was called for a technical foul with 16:12 remaining after he argued that forward Michael Sanchez was fouled by LSU's Tasmin Mitchell.
"Every time he tries to scream, he coughs for like 15 seconds," Ostrom said of Pelphrey. "Even in the postgame, in the locker room, he tried to talk to the team in a calm voice and he ended up having a 15-second coughing spell."
• Arkansas forward Michael Washington had missed the past few days of practice because a death in the family, Ostrom said.
• Arkansas guard Stefan Welsh, who has been battling a right toe injury, missed the final minutes of the game after he appeared to aggravate the injury early on.
Fortson Impresses Coaches In First Game Back
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